Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Mark Spicer

Committee Members

Kyle Adams

Johanna Devaney

Poundie Burstein

Subject Categories

Hip Hop Studies | Music Theory


Hip-Hop, Form, Salt-N-Pepa, Trap Music, Popular Music


This dissertation explores musical form in recorded hip-hop music from 1979–present. Form, defined as the large-scale organization of songs, is a parameter that artists consider in the creative process and fans experience while listening. Hip-hop’s historical foundation as a live, improvised, party-oriented genre influenced formal functions and patterning from the earliest days of its popular recorded life, beginning with the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. While many of the section and song form labels used by scholars of pop-rock music are transferable to the analysis of hip-hop, the latter genre conveys a unique sense of time rooted in looped grooves and improvisatory orality. The Introduction reviews previous scholarship on form in hip-hop and pop- rock and describes this dissertation’s methodology as well as my scholarly positionality. Chapter 1 presents a typology of basic formal functions and sections. Chapter 2 discusses how these small- and medium-scale units combine to create full songs forms; four categories of song forms are posited. Chapter 3, the first of two case studies, features analyses of two of Salt-N-Pepa’s cover versions from 1988: “Twist and Shout” and “Shake Your Thang (It’s Your Thing),” arguing that the rap versions present form more clearly than the originals. Chapter 4 introduces the idea of inter- rotational form in recent trap-influenced hip-hop and concludes by considering the achievements and limitations of the dissertation as a whole.